Recent demonstrations have showcased the potential for routine voice phone calls and 5G data transmission via satellite connectivity. While current iPhones can already send data via satellites in emergencies, these demonstrations indicate that this capability could soon become a regular feature.
One test phone call and a separate 5G data download were successfully made from Maui, Hawaii, to Madrid using a new low Earth orbit satellite. This goes beyond the Emergency SOS via Satellite feature found in iPhone 14 and 15 models, which only allows for super-low bandwidth connections suitable for short text messages.
AST SpaceMobile, a company working on the development of a space-based cellular broadband network accessible directly by standard mobile phones, demonstrated the use of satellite communication for voice calls and 5G data transmission. Although the download rate achieved was 14Mbps, which falls short of ordinary 5G base stations, it represents a significant achievement in terms of satellite communication.
The successful connection was made between an unmodified smartphone and a satellite in space. The call was placed from an area without any mobile voice or data connection, using an unmodified Samsung Galaxy S22 smartphone. AST SpaceMobile collaborated with Vodafone and Nokia for the test.
The aim of this technology is to enable smartphone connectivity in areas that are beyond the reach of ground-based mobile base stations. The companies involved have expressed their ambitions to bridge connectivity gaps and connect underserved communities globally.
The potential of space-based cellular broadband is gaining traction as a means to transform internet connectivity worldwide. It has the potential to reach millions of people and close the mobile usage gap. The collaborative efforts of companies like AST, Vodafone, AT&T, and Nokia are focused on achieving space-based connectivity for consumers, businesses, and first responders on a global scale.
[Link to YouTube video of the call and 5G demo: https://youtube.com/watch?v=jgMEJtFpadw&feature=oembed&rel=0&enablejsapi=1]